Trinidad and Tobago are a pair of islands in the Southern Caribbean located only 8 miles away from the South American coast, nearest to the country of Venezuela. Trinidad is the largest of the island pair, approximately 1,800 square miles compared to Tobago which is only 115 square miles.
Despite its location being in the Caribbean, East Indian is one of the largest ethnic groups. This is due to migration of indentured workers from India to Trinidad beginning in the 1800’s. While there isn’t a large Spanish population, there is a lot of Spanish influence in Trinidad due to the island once being a Spanish colony.
Some of these influences include the cuisine and language. It’s not unusual to hear Spanish last names, music and locations when in Trinidad. In fact, the capital city of Trinidad is called Port of Spain.
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Most Popular Trinidadian Dishes
Trinidadian cuisine has the most East Indian influence out of all the Caribbean nations. Indian influenced dishes include, curries, breads and endless types of chutneys.
Foods without Indian influence include dishes popular in the other islands with African influence such as the use of ground provisions, beans and plantains.
There are also Chinese influences, often called Trini-Chinese food. This again is due to the migration of indentured Chinese laborers in the early 1800’s. Seafood is popular, particularly in Tobago because of its easy access due to the islands small size.
No matter the influence, hot peppers and chadon beni can be found in most dishes. Chadon beni is a herb with a strong smell and flavor, also known as culantro or bhandania.
Roti is a dish which consists of thin dough which is cooked then wrapped around some sort of filling. It loosely resembles a large burrito.
Fillings are typically curried, stewed meat and seafood but it can also be vegetarian. Meats include chicken, beef, lamb and goat. Some meat fillings also include potatoes.
Roti can vary by the dough used, the dough is also called a shell. One method is to beat the shell as it cooks until it is shredded and resembles a torn piece of clothing, this is known a buss up shut. Buss up is slang for busted or torn and shut for shirt.
The second type of roti shell is dhal puri. This is made by placing fine yellow peas between two discs of dough and rolling it out thinly, creating a filling within the dough itself.
Doubles has two components, fried bread and curried chickpeas. The fried bread is called the bara and the chick pea portion is called channa. Two bara and a scoop of channa makes one serving. Some opt to place the filling between the two pieces of fried bread and eat it like a sandwich.
Others take one piece of fried bread and fold it over the filling. This dish isn’t complete without toppings such as hot sauce and chutney. This beloved dish can be found everywhere in Trinidad and Tobago.
Chutney is condiment staple for Trinidadians. It is made by cooking fruit or vegetables and may contain sugar or vinegar and can be sweet, savory or spicy. Some chutneys resemble jam, others are a thin runny sauce. Chutney flavors include mango, tamarind fruit, onions, cilantro, cucumber and coconut to name a few.
The East Indians introduced chutneys to Trinidad but there is one chutney that is uniquely Trinidad’s. It’s called kuchela, which is made with grated green mangoes and heavy spices.
Phoulorie is a deep fried batter. It is made using wheat flour, split pea flour, numerous herbs and spices. The ingredients are mixed into a batter with a slurry like texture. Dollops of batter are dropped into hot oil, rising into a puffy ball.
The inside is airy and phoulorie can be eaten by tearing open and filling with sauce, chutney or dipped whole. Phoulorie is eaten as a snack and is a popular street food.
Shark and Bake
Shark and bake is a type of sandwich made from a fried bread and shark meat. Bakes are discs of fried bread. The bake is slice open then filled with fried shark fillet and other items like tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage and sauce. When the non-endangered shark meat is not available, other types of fish are used.
Trinidadian stew pork utilizes various cuts of pork such as the neck, sugar, vegetables, a large quantity of seasonings and herbs including onion, thyme, green onions and chadon beni. The pork is marinated first then cooked until the stew is dark and the meat is tender. Stew pork is especially popular at Christmas time.
Oil down is actually the national dish of Grenada but is also popular in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a thick stew consisting of vegetables, breadfruit, root vegetables, meat, hot peppers and coconut milk. The name is believed to be a reference to the oils extracted from the meat and coconut milk during the cooking process. This dish is served for lunch or dinner.
Fish broth is a dish consisting of fish, root vegetables, vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, herbs and seasonings cooked into a thin flavorful sauce or broth. While other Caribbean islands have some version of fish broth, Trinidadian fish broth includes hot peppers making it one of the spiciest.
Cowheel is another type of traditional soup. It is made using the cows’ feet, vegetables, seasonings and various root vegetables. Nothing goes to waste – the cow’s feet are particularly meaty although they are high in collagen so it is often first cooked in a pressure cooker to soften the collagen then cooked again with the vegetables.
Callaloo is a dish made primarily from dasheen leaves, coconut milk, herbs and sometimes hot peppers. Dasheen is a type of taro. Callallo has different forms across the Caribbean. Trinidadian callaloo is a thick stew which can be served beside other food like root vegetables, meat or rice.
Callaloo originates from West Africa.
Pelau is a mixed rice dish. It consists of rice, chicken, vegetables, pigeon peas, herbs, and coconut milk. Pelau begins with cooked brown sugar known as browning, which gives the chicken its dark color. The rice mixture is simmered then steamed. Like most Trini dishes, hot pepper is always an option.
Pelau is eaten alongside a cold beverage.